FORMER president Benigno Aquino 3rd said he would have stopped the mass anti-dengue vaccination program had French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi Pasteur presented to him its study about the risk its anti-dengue vaccine posed to recipients with no history of the mosquito-borne illness.
“The promise of Sanofi at that time was that the administration of the vaccine four times would ensure that there is no longer a risk of infection. Now with the November 2017 study, Sanofi is saying suddenly that infection can worsen for first-time dengue patients if the vaccine is administered before the illness,” Aquino told the House of Representatives on Monday as to whether he would have suspended the immunization program had he known of the risks.
Aquino told the Committees on Health and Good Government and Public Accountability that as a layman, what he understood from Sanofi was that the vaccine was good for “all four serotypes” because of the development of anti-bodies that would ensure maximum protection against dengue.
He said he was surprised with the November 2017 study disclosed by Sanofi that was the exact opposite of what was presented to him when he was president.
The Department of Health (DoH) ordered the suspension of the immunization program last year after Sanofi admitted that Dengvaxia only provides persistent protective benefit against dengue fever “in those who had prior infection.”
“For those not previously infected by dengue virus, however, the analysis found that in the longer term, more cases of severe disease could occur following vaccination upon a subsequent dengue infection,” Sanofi said.
Dengue, which is transmitted through the Aedes aegypti mosquito, is an acute viral infection, which may result in death if left untreated.
Over 830,000 Filipino children have received the vaccine when the announcement to stop the program was made.
Sanofi is facing a civil suit after it refused to refund P1.6 billion worth of used vials and set up an indemnification fund for the alleged victims of the vaccine.
The pharmaceutical giant on Monday said it had yet to receive a formal document from the DoH on the civil case.
“We have not received any formal document in relation to the civil case to be filed by the Department of Health in relation to the company’s response to the second request to refund the government for the used doses of Dengvaxia,” Sanofi said in a statement.
“As mentioned in our reply letter to the DoH, we stand firmly behind our product. Refunding the used doses of Dengvaxia would imply that the vaccine is ineffective, which is not the case. And at this time, there is also no known circumstance requiring indemnification,” it added.
Use of savings
Aquino also defended his administration’s decision to use savings of Department of Budget and Management for the procurement and use of Dengvaxia.
Former budget secretary Butch Abad said: “MPBF (Miscellaneous Personnel Benefit Fund) is a legitimate source of fund,” when asked by Rep. Carlos Zarate during the hearing to justify the Aquino administration’s use of savings.
He added that this was authorized under the “release and use of funds” provision provided “that the president will augment an efficient item of appropriation.”
On December 29, 2015, the DBM issued a P3.5-billion Special Allotment Release Order to former Health secretary Janette Garin’s office to purchase the vaccines.
Malacañang on Monday denied the allegations of former president Aquino that the dengue vaccine issue had been politicized.
In a news conference, Palace spokesman Harry Roque Jr. insisted that Duterte “has taken a very calm, very rationale approach” on the issue.
“His continuing order is for the investigation, the NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) to continue and to conclude it so that we will find out if people should be criminally liable,” he added.
The Department of Justice (DoJ) is set to summon Aquino to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to warrant his criminal indictment in connection with the procurement of the anti-dengue vaccine.
The DOJ has formed a four-man team to conduct the preliminary investigation against Aquino, two former Cabinet officials and several former and incumbent health officials
WITH CATHERINE MODESTO, KENNETH HERNANDEZ, CATHERINE S. VALENTE AND JOMAR CANLAS